The FSSAI has been promoting food fortification so that the general public is not deprived of essential vitamins and minerals that are needed for good health and well-being. It may come as no surprise to you to know, that in India, over half the women and children suffer from anaemia. Anaemia is caused by the deficiency of iron which is an important mineral required to produce blood in the body. Similarly, a large number of Indians have Vitamin D deficiency. The body uses sunshine to produce Vitamin D but given the busy lifestyles these days, there is no time to get enough sunshine.
Deficiency of vitamins and minerals often remains unnoticed but its consequences are devastating, and in many cases, permanent. For example, deficiency of key micronutrients- vitamins and minerals, like iodine in pregnant women and children, can lead to mental and physical retardation among children, poor performance in school and subsequently poor economic outcomes. The worst part is that this affects people from all walks of life and sections of the society. India has a very high burden of micronutrient deficiencies caused by vitamin A, iodine, iron and folic acid leading to night blindness, goitre, anaemia and various birth defects. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4)
- 4 percent of children (6-59 months) are anaemic
- 1 percent women in the reproductive age group are anaemic
- 7 percent of children under 5 are underweight
Many are deprived of essential micronutrients in the daily diet because even though they may be eating enough quantities of food, they may not be getting all the nutrients required. Ideally, all nutrients must be available to you from your daily diet. For this you need to eat a balanced diet that is varied and includes all food groups in the right quantity to receive the required nutrients. However, this is not always possible given food choices, individual preferences, habits, fast-paced lifestyles, lack of awareness on nutrition as well as availability of nutritious food. Deficiency of micronutrients or micronutrient malnutrition, also known as ‘hidden hunger’ is a serious health risk.
This is where food fortification plays the role of providing the required nutrients. Fortification is a globally proven intervention to address the much prevalent micronutrient deficiencies in the population. This method complements other ways to improve nutrition such as diversification of diet and supplementation of food. Eating fortified rice and wheat means that you will receive key vitamins and minerals from these regularly consumed staple foods. There are several foods that are fortified in India for various nutrient requirements.
- DOUBLE FORTIFIED SALT has added iodine and iron to prevent anaemia and promote normal growth and brain development and thyroid function
- RICE & WHEAT FLOUR: have added Iron, Vitamin B12 and Folic acid to prevent anaemia
- OIL & MILK have added Vitamin D and Vitamin A for strong bones and eye health
These nutrients are added to these staple foods in small but adequate quantities to improve their nutrient content. The best part of food fortification is that it does not change the original taste, texture, appearance or method of cooking and costs very little compared to the health benefits it provides. While eating a balanced diet is the best solution for getting all the nutrients we need, food fortification certainly helps to improve the nutrition profile in a simple and easy way.
What are the Benefits of Fortification?
Food Fortification has a high benefit-to-cost ratio. The Copenhagen Consensus estimates that every 1 Rupee spent on fortification results in 9 Rupees in benefits to the economy. It requires an initial investment to purchase both the equipment and the vitamin and mineral premix, but the overall costs of fortification are extremely low. Even when all program costs are passed on to consumers, the price increase is approximately by 1-2%, which is less than the normal price variation. Following are the various benefits of fortification of foods:
- Nutrients are added to staple foods since they are widely consumed. Thus, this is an excellent method to improve the health of a large section of the population, all at once.
- It is a safe method of improving nutrition among people. The addition of micronutrients to food does not pose a health risk to people. The quantity added is small and well under the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) and are well regulated as per prescribed standards for safe consumption.
- It is a cost-effective intervention and does not require any changes in eating patterns or food habits of people. It is a socio-culturally acceptable way to deliver nutrients to people.
- It does not alter the characteristics of the food like the taste, aroma or the texture of the food.
Many countries have fortified foods items such as sugar, wheat flour, salt since the past 100 years. Even in India, salt has been fortified with iodine for the past 60 years, which has reduced iodine-related disorders such as goitre. Now, the five staples that are fortified in India according to the standards notified by FSSAI as to the quantity of the micronutrient to be added based on scientific data. Lower and upper limits have been defined such that 30-50% of the daily requirements of these micronutrients are met. At the same time, the upper limit ensures that we do not receive these micronutrients in excessive amounts, thus making them safe for consumption.
How would you know how to identify fortified foods in the market?
For this, FSSAI has come out with the ‘+F’ logo for foods fortified as per standards by FSSAI. This +F logo gives instant recognisability and indicates which micronutrients have been added to the foods. It also assures the consumers that the micronutrients have been added in the right quantity, thus making these foods safe for consumption. You, as a ‘smart food consumer’ can promote fortified foods with the +F logo and do your bit. You will not only improve your health but also of your loved ones and others in the society.
How do we ensure that each and every one of us has access to fortified foods?
The Government has taken several steps towards making fortified foods accessible to all. Food fortification has been identified as one of the six key strategies for anaemia prevention by the Government’s flagship programme – Anaemia Mukt Bharat. Ministries of Women and Child Development, Human Resource Development and Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution have issued directives to include fortified foods in safety net programmes namely Integrated Child Development Services, Mid-Day Meal and Public Distribution Scheme respectively. Last but not the least, FSSAI has set up a dedicated Resource Centre (https://ffrc.fssai.gov.in/) to promote and facilitate food fortification in States & UTs as well as the open market.